Amadeus (film)

Amadeus (Directed by Milos Forman)/1984

A huge hit in 1984, Milos Forman’s Amadeus has fallen out of popular consciousness to a great extent. Part of this may be due to its cartoonish visual qualities, and the blatant projection of 1980s American culture onto 18th Century Vienna. It maybe also be partly due to the failure of the lead actor Tom Hulce to do anything else of importance. While Amadeus is an extremely bad movie if watched as a historical representation of true events, it is a great movie if appreciated on its own terms.

Amadeus presents Mozart as an 18th century version of a contemporary rock-star. Mozart is a musical visionary that wants to make beautiful music, but is continuously constrained and judged by the conservative elites that commission his works. He develops a serious alcohol addiction, and slowly loses his mind. He comes across as childish and without any concern with social expectation, while the jealous Salieri is constrained by his inability to create without concern for the judgments of others.

Director Milos Foreman is, in this movie, presenting his conception of genius, and simply uses the historical character of Mozart as a vehicle to do this. Foreman demonstrates that genius cannot exist with a concern for what other people think of it, and original great work will not be appreciated by the critics of the age. Moreover, he demonstrates how artistic greatness is ultimately tied to a self that is free from the shackles of fear and simply wants to create something beautiful for its own sake.

The darker side of Amadeus’ vision is that society will try to break the genius by criticising her work, and out casting her for not creating something that is within the realms of social expectations. The pressure placed on Mozart by society is personified by the man in the black mask, who brings Mozart’s death sentence in the form of a piece of commissioned music. That being said, the movie makes the point that it is better to die an authentic individual be a mediocrity that spends his life trying to please those in power like Salieri.

Viewers may take offence with the use of American accents, gestures and statements in a portrayal of Mozart. Yet, for me, this brought the movie to life in contrast to the wooden and overly serious portrayals of historical characters in other biopics. It made me reflect on the typical use of British accents and the bland, humourless characters that often litter historical movies. The reality is that living today we can never present a representation of what life would be like in 18th century Vienna: we can never escape our own historical and culture embeddedness to do so. If we accept this fact, then there is nothing wrong with presenting history overtly as the kind of existence we experience.

Finally, if you enjoy Mozart’s music, then you will love this film. Forman does an amazing job of weaving the music into the movie at the perfect time, and in a beautiful way. It is also fascinating to think about how at the time, classical music was the popular music of the day, and that a new opera would have created hype and drama in the manner of a Radiohead or KRS1 concert today.

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